Remember this when you’re feeling taken for granted

Remember this when you’re feeling taken for granted

Image for postEnough? (Credit: Min An)

One of the biggest gifts of learning to come out of my early twenties was a realisation of how much I dislike being taken for granted. It was a phase with a great many significant events; a career peppered with booms and busts characteristic of the era, financial impudence and imprudence, parenthood in my early twenties and marriage and divorce before the age of 30.

I learned many things about myself. That I hate being taken for granted was a big one.

I?m not particularly hung up on being shown gratitude. I appreciate good manners, but I?ve only really learned in my forties the genuine power and meaning of gratitude in life and I don?t think ingratitude from others is the issue. I?ve demonstrated a desire to serve, to please and to do more for others than I expect in return, throughout life. I?m certainly no saint, but I?ve never expected others to do things for me in order to justify me doing something for them. In fact, I?m terrible at taking help(and especially bad at asking for it).

The adverse feelings manifest when I feel that my interests, opinions and modest requests I make of others aren?t taken seriously or are paid lip-service without apparent concern. The anger strikes when my reasonable needs and desires aren?t seemingly treated as credible or serious.

When there?s an imbalance or an injustice, that?s when I feel agitated.

Is it because I?m too easy-going? Too accommodating? Compliant? A pushover? Who can say?

?Being taken for granted is an unpleasant but sincere form of praise. Ironically, the more reliable you are and the less you complain, the more likely you are to be taken for granted.?

-Gretchen Rubin

It?s a lesson that has stuck with me over the years. It?s also provided invaluable opportunities to learn through reflecting on its implications and its causes. I?ve learned a great deal about myself through this process and I?ve learned much about others and how I interact with them too.

I?m taken for granted when my good-deeds and good-will are taken as read, when it?s just assumed that I?ll act with generosity and compliance regardless of whether expectations of others are reasonable or deserved. It grinds me down when others seem to feel that my efforts are exerted without personal sacrifice, or without any cost or pain on my part and hence don?t need to be acknowledged, appreciated or reciprocated.

I suppose in this sense I do feel hard done by when there is no quid-pro-quo.

What does this really say about me? Is it wrong to feel cheated when I see no or little pay-back from my efforts, or am I entitled to feel this way?

A kindness should be its own reward and yet to give and to serve others selflessly is often treated as the preserve of those spiritual beings who have given themselves and their lives over entirely to the service of others. Their purpose is to bring about the betterment of mankind at the expense of almost everything else. Is this what it takes to negate the need for acknowledgment of one?s efforts? Is this what?s required to bypass the gnawing annoyance when your kindnesses and requests go ignored?


In most, if not all aspects of life we?re in it for the returns on our efforts. We say ?I love you? in anticipation of a reciprocal response. We pay a fair price in expectation of a fair exchange of value. We reward our kids for good behaviour and we?re similarly rewarded for an honest day?s work with an honest day?s pay.

Image for postGive and take? (Credit: Jasmine Wallace)

Life is interlaced with such exchanges, and the balance of humanity is maintained through fair and proportionate responses to the inputs. When one side of the equation is lacking, everything feels out of balance.

The wider implications of this extend even further. As a parent I now see that it underpins many of the lessons I?ve attempted to teach to my offspring and I must have learned it myself as a kid.

It?s the essence of the cause and effect nature of life. The way you treat others manifests itself in the way that others treat you. The efforts you put in (whether towards school-work, on the sports field or in practice of your chosen hobbies) will yield results in direct proportion. This accounts for the feelings of injustice when kids put in a particularly comprehensive piece of work, only to feel that their efforts are overlooked in favour of one of their peers whose work they perceive as inferior. Perhaps this explains why kids who repeatedly raise their hands in class feel that the teacher favours their classmates who are always given the opportunity to speak.

Kids learn early-on that the reward for their efforts will normally reflect the efforts they?ve put in and they feel rightly cheated when this doesn?t play out.

Maybe my dislike of my efforts being taken for granted is more deep rooted than I thought?

?Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.?

-Mark Twain

In our work we carry forward the same conditioning, the same sense of right and wrong. We bring equivalent expectations of reward in proportion to our efforts. The unjust promotions and the biased recognition that our colleagues receive is inequitable. The successes of our competitors seems unjust. The customers who are ambivalent or unresponsive to our diligent efforts at sales and service, prompt those familiar feelings in us; ?it?s not fair? wails our inner-child.

We reasonably assume that by following a prescribed system or taking the necessary actions then we?re justified in expecting the same results as others who have been there before us. It?s easy to forget though that there are many other variables and factors outside of our control, the environmental factors and the input, influence and whims of the other humans in the equation that each determine how our efforts are received and the responses that will come. It?s too big and complex a system to think that we can predict the outcome solely based on what we do, and that goes for relationships, work and every aspect of our lives.

Moving onwards

So given that I want to move forwards and grow through life, I need a different tactic for when I feel taken for granted. I have a choice whether to feel embittered and unappreciated or I can take it as a reminder that I can only influence one side of the equation. Within my control is the efforts and gestures I put in, the actions I take and the things that I say and do. I cannot influence how they?re received, nor can I shape the responses that come back.

I?ve no desire to withhold the gestures and kindnesses that I extend to those I love and others who I simply want to connect with or help. There?s no appeal to me in being caught in a Mexican-standoff of good-will. In such a confrontation I?m proud to be the first to pull the trigger of positive action.

I want to feel free to give and contribute positively to the world, in my relationships, in my work and in my daily life without expectation of or need for appreciation. Attaining this level of selflessness is critical for living a positive life, connecting with and enriching the lives of others and achieving significance and success in my chosen endeavours as a result.

And as I strive to this end, I must remember that the good deed is its own reward, whether it?s recognised and appreciated or not.


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